British pop star Harry Styles filed suit in an Illinois U.S. District Court on Tuesday against an e-commerce website allegedly using his trademark and likeness to sell counterfeit clothing. The move comes just weeks after fellow chart-topper Justin Bieber took H&M to task over questionable tour merch, prompting the Swedish fast-fashion retailer to kowtow to the “Sorry” singer’s wishes and take the clothes out of circulation.
Though Styles’ suit was filed in Illinois, being a state where residents are able to view and purchase the allegedly counterfeit products, the defendants are believed to reside in China, and are referred to in the legal claim as The Partnerships and Unincorporated Associations Identified on Schedule A.
That the seller alias websites mentioned in the complaint are violating Styles’ trademark rights is certainly not in question; how to identify the defendants and what can be done to stop this sort of blatant intellectual property theft are the greater issue possed by attorneys from Chicago-based Greer, Burns & Crain law firm.
“Tactics used by Defendants to conceal their identities and the full scope of their operation make it virtually impossible for Plaintiff to learn Defendants’ true identities and the exact interworking of their counterfeit network,” the complaint reads. “If Defendants provide additional credible information regarding their identities, Plaintiff will take appropriate steps to amend the Complaint.”
Plaintiffs cite a number of seller aliases including sellerdefense.cn, kaidianyo.com and kuajingvs.com. The text of all three websites are in Chinese, and a keyword search for Harry Styles on sellerdefense.cn goes to a page selling t-shirts and other merchandise, along with cover art from Styles’ album “Harry’s House.” However, it is not possible to click on the album or shirts for sale. The page includes Styles’ trademark patent and a sellerdefense.cn watermark overlaid.
Attorneys for the Gucci ambassador say in the complaint there are some clues and common themes that may help to eventually identify the proper defendants.
“Even though Defendants operate under multiple fictitious aliases, the e-commerce stores operating under the Seller Aliases often share unique identifiers, such as templates with common design elements that intentionally omit any contact information or other information for identifying Defendants or other Seller Aliases they operate or use,” the complaint reads. “E-commerce stores operating under the Seller Aliases include other notable common features such as use of the same registration patterns, accepted payment methods, check-out methods, keywords, advertising tactics, similarities in price and quantities, the same incorrect grammar and misspellings, and/or the use of the same text and images. Additionally, Counterfeit Products for sale by the Seller Aliases bear similar irregularities and indicia of being counterfeit to one another, suggesting that the Counterfeit Products were manufactured by and come from a common source and that Defendants are interrelated.”
Stopping this sort of activity is made even more difficult by the fact that even if websites are identified and shut down, many more can pop up just as easily and find unsuspecting customers Googling something as simple as “Harry Styles concert shirt.”
“Counterfeiters hedge against the risk of being caught and having their websites taken down from an e-commerce platform by preemptively establishing multiple virtual storefronts,” the complaint reads. “Platforms generally do not require a seller on a third-party marketplace to identify the underlying business entity, counterfeiters can have many different profiles that can appear unrelated even though they are commonly owned and operated.”
Styles is suing for trademark infringement and counterfeiting and false designation of origin. He is asking the court for a restraining order against further acts of infringement and sales, as well as for known third party providers such as eBay, AliExpress, Alibaba, Amazon, Wish.com, Walmart, Etsy, and DHgate to “‘disable and ease displaying any advertisements used by or associated with Defendants in connection with the sale of counterfeit and infringing goods,”’ damages up to three times standard infringement awards due to the aggravated counterfeit claim, as well as court fees.
Attorneys for Styles did not immediately respond to Sourcing Journal requests for additional comment.
The singer isn’t alone in his battle against bad actors. Adidas is also trying to squash dozens of scam websites attempting to hawk product that counterfeit the Three Stripes.